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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Blind Sort Mini-Lesson

Welcome! I know it has been a little while since my last blog post, but I am sure everyone can relate to the amount of work we all have in the beginning of the school year. I am especially busy this year because our school is in transition from Imagine IT to a balanced literacy model.  

Lucy Caulkin's Reading and Writing Workshop
Our school has been following Lucy Caulkin's Reading and Writing Workshop, as we move toward balanced literacy. In this format, word study does not look the same as I have taught it in the past. I used to meet with each group during literacy centers and have students sort words at a small table while we discussed the features of that group's words. It was taught in a more isolated fashion, with students of different levels having different mini-lessons. Although I still meet with students and target their developmental levels, there is a big push in this new design for a common word study mini-lesson each day. Instead of pulling groups during a designated word study time, I pull students during different times of the day based on their needs. For example, the other day I pulled 3 kids for a quick picture sort comparing short i and short e.  Although I have 5 kids in my Letter-Name group, only 3 were struggling with this skill. In addition, I created a short vowel anchor chart with all of the short vowel patterns and make the kids refer to it during writing and morning work (individualized Cut, Paste & Spell). So even though I am not rotating through word study groups, I am still using targeted word study, it just looks a little different and is more integrated.  I like that.  I can already see how this will be a more efficient model because I am able to have a larger writing block. 

Whole Group Mini-Lesson
In order to move toward this model, I have returned to introducing the words from all of the groups as a whole group lesson on day 1. This is especially important for the students in the lower levels to be exposed to words in the higher levels. However, I wanted a routine for the whole group lesson, so I am working on what that looks like. I needed a way to work in the blind sort, so I began to do it whole group and I love it! I led the class in a blind sort with short o, long o spelled o_e, oa, and ow. I wanted to make sure all the kids were on task, so I gave them all an index card and had them write the categories and columns. This could also be done by folding it into 4 sections and having students write a pattern in each of the four squares, which I have done before (it all depends on how small a child can write). Next, I had the patterns printed on chart paper and as I called out the words, students pointed at the category on their index card where they thought I should write it. After their prediction, I wrote it on the chart and told them to think about whether they got it correct. I then modeled blending the word by underlining the pattern as we repeated the word as a class and continued to the next word. I hope someone can use this. I am known for talking too much, so if this blog post is too long, here is a graphic that may help you put it all into perspective. I am definitely a big picture person and need something like this!

You can download a copy of these directions here: Blind Sort Mini-Lesson Directions

Have a great Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How Many Am I Hiding Practice Recording Sheet

For a change of pace, I thought I would share my "How Many Am I Hiding?" recording sheet.  Although this blog is not math focused, I have always loved math.  

If you are not familiar with "How Many Am I Hiding," one child is working on memorizing all the combinations of a certain number by using cubes, and another child hides some of the cubes.  The first student must say how many are being hidden.  If they have to "count up" to figure it out, they need to stay on that number until they "just know."  Kids in my class know the number for which they are working on remembering all of the combinations.  We practice the game about 3 times a week, and they can practice the number they are working on and one number above (just to vary it a little).  I like how they are in charge of keeping track of their practice, and thus more active in their learning. 

This sheet is simply to record their attempts at practicing.  I like to have them practice orally by saying how many are missing instead of writing the combinations down.  They do record them occasionally, but I wanted a way to have a quick, 5 minute practice, and more often than writing the numbers down would allow.  This way, they just color in the box above the number they practiced that day.  If they practiced two different numbers, then can color in a maximum of two boxes.

So here is the sheet:

You can download it here:  How Many Am I Hiding? Practice Recording Sheet

Happy Hump Day!


Monday, September 16, 2013

Word Study Routines

I was sharing my word study routines with my colleagues today, so I thought I would share them here.  Part of my problem as a teacher, is that while it is easy for me to teach first graders and understand their background knowledge, it is very difficult to know how much my fellow teachers know.  I have difficulty knowing where to start explaining things about word study because I think some things are already known.  I was so excited to share my routines when someone asked today.  I get very excited when discussing word study and have to hold back my enthusiasm because not everyone wants to stay after school and talk about it like I do!  So here goes.  Here are the in-class routines each week:

Day 1: Cut words, Teacher Sort (I tell them how to sort it using the pre-printed guide words at the top of each list), Speed Sort.

Day 2: Student Sort.  "How else can you sort it?"  Students usually sort by first letter or last letter until they know the terms "L-blends", "R-Blends", digraphs, etc.

Day 3: Blind Sort (also called "no-peeking sort").  Students work with a partner in the same spelling group.  One student has all of the spelling words and lays down the "rules" or "guide words".  I call them rules but others call them guide words.  Anyway, the guide words are at the top, and the student with the words reads one while the other student listens and says which column the word should go in.  This helps the student that is not looking to picture the word/pattern in his/her mind and receive immediate feedback.  If student is correct the word is placed down under the rule.  If not, the caller shows the student the word and then places it on the bottom of the pile so that the student can have another chance to get it correct.

Day 4: Word Hunt:  Students find words that fit the rules they are working on in books.  This helps kids make the spelling-reading connection.  Many kids do not understand that something they learn in spelling will help them in their reading.  You want them to make this connection so that they will use the skills they learn in spelling during their reading. 

Another way to sort:

Concept Sort.  This is tricky.  It takes a lot of modeling.    I can't say that I have taught it it all year because it takes a lot of work to get kids to think of things.  It was easy with pictures, but with words you have to go through a routine to get them to come up with similarities between words.  Using the words in their lists, students sort their words into concepts like kitchen items, or things to do with water, things that remind me of my grandma, etc.  The key to getting kids to be successful is to hold up a word and ask them to tell you everything they know about the word.  Then repeat it with the other words until the students hear anything that can be seen as a similarity.  It takes practice, but I think it really helps practice abstract thinking and generalizing.  

If I can help anyone in any way, please email me or leave a comment below with any questions.  I have had 15,000 visitors to this site, but not a lot of people leave comments.  So I know you are out there!  

Happy Monday!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Vocabulary Posters for Common Class Times

Word Consciousness, an awareness of words and how they work, seems to be the gateway into developing a students' vocabularies.  Michael F. Graves, Susan Watts-Taffe in "For the Love of Words: Fostering Word Consciousness in Young Readers" (2008) promote a six part framework for Fostering Word Consciousness:

1. Create a word-rich environment
2. Recognize and promote adept diction
3. Promote wordplay
4. Foster word consciousness through writing
5. Involve students in original investigations
6. Teach students about words

In the beginning of the year, my focus is on #1, creating a word-rich environment.  To begin addressing vocabulary acquisition in my classroom, I try to use posters like the one below (there are five) during my daily routines in order to remind me to use "spicy" words during common class times or transitions.  I hang them up in non-prime location spots because they are just there for me to use orally so that students are exposed to rich vocabulary at all times of the day. 

You can download this file here:  Vocabulary for Common Class Times

I don't recall where I got this list, but a while ago, I typed it up and hung it in my classroom.  Please let me know if you have any other words to suggest and I will revise the file and repost.

I hope everyone has gotten off to a good start this year!

Happy Teaching!


Monday, July 29, 2013

Word Study Homework

Hi Fellow Teachers,

Today I thought I would share my word study homework schedule for the week. Let me first say that I am not an advocate of lots of homework. If I can get away with it, I only give word study and reading homework.

NO Math Homework
I have stated before that I had a friend who completed her thesis on "Does Homework Help With Math Mastery?" and she found the answer was no. In general, the high kids got it right away, the middle kids learned it the second time, and the low kids needed more help than could be found at home. Besides, I have been teaching an hour and a half of math nowadays and if a student is struggling after that, I have already addressed it with the parent and given additional suggestions and activities.

No Projects Please!
I also don't like to give projects unless my colleagues force me. I will go along with a project if a colleague feels passionately about it in order to maintain good relations. Nothing is better than going to work everyday happy to see everyone with the intent to having a good time. But aside from that, I feel parents already have their own "Projects". For some it is a project just to get dinner on the table at the right time. For others it is a family project to attend baseball/football/soccer practice at night. As you can tell, I don't like telling families what they must do after school and I guard their time as if it were my own. I also tell parents that if a child doesn't complete his/her homework to please know that I will understand and it will not affect the child's day at school. We are here to have a fun time learning and if there is a repeated problem, I will address it with the parent. Life is stressful. We all need to relax about the little things.  

Only Word Study Homework and Reading
Below is my schedule for Word Study Homework. The only other homework I have students complete is reading homework. Parents must write the title of the book the student has read in the agenda. That is it. Word Study homework should take 10 minutes on most days. The blind sort is done on Tuesdays because my friend Alyson (she is the famous person on the cover of Words Their Way!) focused on this during our masters project and found that it helped students earlier in the week. I think it is because it is like a practice test in the beginning of the week that enables students to isolate the words they don't know. Some teachers give students a pretest so that they will know which words to practice more during the week. I find that this takes the place of that and it is more of a game.

Here is an editable copy (Word Document) of my homework instructions: Word Study Homework 

It looks like this:

Notice how I only collect papers on Monday and Thursday. I tried to have them use their word study notebooks, but I like to keep those at school.

Good luck with the beginning of the school year!


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Google Docs Forms

Hi Friends,

I am still vacationing, but I thought I would take time out from the beautiful Jersey shore to blog.  Actually, I got a little burned at the beach and must take a day off out of the sun.  In any case, I thought I would share my favorite management item for the beginning of the year with you all.
In Google Docs, you can create a form that enables parents to type in their information and answer questions that you create.  You can have the answers turned into a spreadsheet as they are entered. Here is a copy of my form that you can edit to meet your needs:

Ms. Sanders Parent Contact Form

You must click on "File" and "Make a Copy" before it will allow you to edit the document.

I have parents fill it out at home, or in my classroom at Open House. This is what it looks like on my website:

I have mine embedded on my wikispaces class website.  You can visit my class website here:

You can start with this form and edit it, or you can create a new one.

Here are instructions provided by Google on creating a form:

Google has a video you can watch on that site as well about how to create a form. Once you have created your form, under "Form" you can click "Go to Live Form" or "Embed in a Webpage".

I hope this helps you have a great start!


Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Stickers! Stickers! Stickers! and 21st Century Teaching

Yes, I know there is only one more week of school, but I can't help reflecting on my favorite revelation this year. 

Seriously, all kidding aside, stickers are a huge reason I went into teaching.  I mean, who doesn't remember getting stickers when they were in school?  They were so beautiful.  Some were shiny, some were bright, but the best were the smelly stickers.  They have since renamed them stinky stickers, but that name doesn't do them justice.  Anyway, you can tell I love stickers.  Parents love donating stickers too, so I think many feel the same way I do.  The other day, someone brought me Hello Kitty stickers and I swear when I saw them I forgot what I was doing and had to sit down to absorb their beauty.

So I couldn't just become a teacher who gave stickers once in a while.  I became a teacher whose whole classroom management centers around praise and stickers.  Do not underestimate the power of a sticker.

First, I do have the "Clip Up/Down" clothespins.  But really, it is just there for backup.  The first time I meet parents, I explain to them that my goal each day is to get students to the top.  Really.  I don't feel like I have been successful in recognizing the wonderful things that go on each day if most of my class is not at the top.  Once they get past the top, they get a sticker each time I say "clip up" and they say "I'm already at the top."

"Well go put your sticker page on my desk!"

Beaming, the student quickly gets out his/her sticker page and puts it on my desk.

When students get 5 stickers, they get to go to the treasure box or they can choose to have a 5 minute sharing time on Friday.  First graders love to share!

I especially love to pick 4 or 5 kids everyday during "Book Box" time-- who were reading the whole time-- to receive stickers. 

But it gets better.

At some point around mid-year, one of the students said something so clever, brilliant, or profound that I couldn't help but skip the behavior chart and squealed, "Brilliant!  Bring me your sticker page."  Audible gasps around the room came from children who couldn't believe I went straight to stickers!

I took that moment to explain the amazing thoughts that came from this student, and how they sat and thought about something I had said and then used what they knew to figure something out.  I would tell you what that was but I honestly don't remember because since that day, so many students come up to me and start with, "I noticed....." or "I figured out......" to try to impress me enough with their thought processes so that I will call them amazing, brilliant, clever, etc., and give them a sticker.  And most of the time I do.  Because they seriously sit and contemplate what they could possibly say that could get them a sticker and praise.  And it is crazy how fast they have learned to extend their thinking about whatever it is we are discussing.

It happens a lot in math, like when several students noticed that you could subtract to get a missing addend.  I didn't even lead anyone to it.  They just stare at things looking for things to say to me.

Or in reading, kids will come up and say things about how characters from different books are the same and proceed to give me some amazing character analysis.

But the other day was the best day ever.  A struggling student drew out her whole thought process on this math word problem and explained it to me step by step how she figured it out.  It was difficult and it was a multi-step story problem.  And I swear her life changed that day.  The light in her eyes and the excitement in her voice told me that she will love figuring out story problems the rest of her life. 

It has gotten so bad (good) that I had to start putting boundaries on when kids could come up to me and tell me their revelations.  Like, lining up for lunch is not a good time.

Critical thinking and creativity are two huge goals of the 21st century learner and I witness kids showing off these skills all day.  So if anyone asks me how I am teaching kids to be 21st century learners, I reply, "I give stickers."

Happy Last Week of School!


p.s.  If you want this simple sticker page you can grab it here:

Sticker Awards Page

I put the sticker in/over the box and write what it was given for on the line.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Developmental Spelling meet Picture Sorting

Do you love picture sorting as much as I do?  Don't you wish your students could spell the words after they get through sorting?  These 3 books are designed to do just that!

You may have seen my first two, but the 3rd book focuses on contrasting all the short vowel combinations while including blends and digraphs.

Picture sorting is an awesome way to help your students develop Phonemic Awareness.  Students manipulate the pictures by cutting, sorting and gluing them in categories.  Because they are pictures, students are forced to listen and feel for the sounds in their mouth.

I have had picture sorting a major part of my reading curriculum for some time.  However, I have always had the students spell the pictures by using their invented spelling because most picture sorting materials use any words.  Some have many syllables, and others are a higher level than a student who is picture sorting would be able to spell. I dreamed of someday creating all of my own picture sorts that would contain ONLY pictures that would be developmentally appropriate to spell.
I have finally created these.

If you are new to picture sorting, you must get into a routine of introducing the pictures before the activity.  Even simple pictures are not always interpreted the same by students.  However, it is well worth the effort, because in picture sorting, the student is active and in charge.  They are not being talked to, but they are listening to themselves and feeling the sounds in their own mouth instead of listening to the teacher while the teacher is in charge of the phonemic awareness activity/routine.

I feel the picture sorting is one of the biggest "bang for your buck" in the teaching of beginning reading.  Once you establish a routine of picture sorting, so many "aha" moments occur for both teachers and students.  As a teacher, when you observe a student saying a sound wrong, you understand that your student will not understand those letter combinations until they are making those sounds in their mouth correctly.  One of the most common examples is the word drive.  Many teachers know that students who are beginning to learn to read spell it JRIV.  This is because they are feeling it that way in their mouth.  But picture sorting gives you a chance to discuss it with students and not have the focus be on the letters, but on the formation of the sound in their mouth.  In addition, you are also providing another way of learning to spell by incorporating the kinesthetic association with their mouth.

Another way to focus on how the letters are formed are to teach kids about voiced and unvoiced consonant sounds.  For example, B and P are both made the same way except one is made with your voice and the other with a puff of air.  Highlighting this for your students will help them to become fluent in letter-sound correspondence and help them get through the letter-sound (letter-name) level more quickly.  I tried to highlight these combinations in the Word Family Cut Paste and Spell book.  Here is a sample page that focuses on ending voiced and unvoiced consonant sounds:

As an added bonus, students get practice cutting and pasting.  Fine motor skills lead to advancements in other areas as well.  I have noticed that when I teach handwriting solidly in the beginning of the year, that my students are much better writers by the end of the year content-wise.  This is because fluency in handwriting frees up brain space so that students can concentrate on what they are writing and not how they are writing it.  Don't let anyone tell you handwriting is not important.   Interested in the link between handwriting and quality writing?  Google "handwriting fluency" and you will see that there are many studies that link it with writing quality.  Click HERE for one good article. But I am digressing.  Just know that LOTS of cutting and pasting are good for students.

Here are some free samples of the books.  I hope you like them!

Book 1  Cut, Paste, and Spell Word Families Mini Sample

Book 2 Cut, Paste, and Spell CVC Words--Contrasting All Vowels Mini Sample

Book 3 Cut, Paste, and Spell-- Blends and Digraphs--Contrasting All Vowels Mini Sample

To purchase the full books, please visit my TPT store here: 

They are also sold separately if you are interested in a particular one.

Thanks for stopping by! 

10 more days of school for me!  How about you?

Wishing you the best summer!